English Grammar

everyone needs to be...

Good morning everyone in the forum
In my today's lesson I read the following sentence:

"Everyone needs to be on their best behaviour."

To me: "everyone" is singular
"needs" is singular
why to put "their behaviour" and not "his" or "one's behaviour"?


  • On HIS behaviour? It's a bit macho isn't it? Whot not HER behaviour?
    Your question is worth an answer from a great grammarian for I heard there was some controversy among grammarians about that question: Is everyone singular or plural?
    You ought to find out explanations by typing "everyone singular?" on your search engine. I hope some periti GGusers in the line of Silky will post here further information.

    Meanwhile I'll tell you my thought.
    I think that everyone is singular because it refers to each subject of a group.

    Everyone (singular) has to pay respect to the law of subject-verb agreement. So one says:
    Everyone manages to control the ball.
    Everyrone is looking for someone to chat with.
    Everyone was crying.
    Everyone needs to behave properly.

    But when using in the sentence a pronoun or possessive adjective that refer to everyone, English use the plural form of the pronoun or adjective. So they say:
    Everyone manages to control themselves.
    Everyone was looking for their belongings before leaving.
    Everyone was crying their eyes out.
    Everyone needs to be on their best behaviour.

    That's a good way of not being taken for a macho or a feminist.
    It goes likewise with everybody, one, no one, somebody and possibly other pronouns (?).
  • Hi,

    You can say 'on his best behaviour'. However, this is rather sexist! It's much better and more idiomatic to say 'on their best behaviour'. Here, 'their' is used as a gender-neutral alternative which is less cumbersome than 'his or her'.

    I hope this helps!

  • From Samson:
    Good morning everyone in the forum
    In my today's lesson I read the following sentence:

    "Everyone needs to be on their best behaviour."

    To me: "everyone" is singular
    "needs" is singular
    why to put "their behaviour" and not "his" or "one's behaviour"?

  • Bonjour,
    Let's turn to Greek, the mother of all our European langages.
    They had a gender-neutral (thanks Benedict) which is out of the game Singular / Plural.
    "Ta Zooa Trekei" Trekei is singular in the form, but Plural in the meaning (The animals are running)
    This Neutral gender has almost disappeared in our langages, but you can find Hints of his glorious Past.
    "One's", in English and "On" in French.
    "On est venu à plusieurs" is, I think, grammaticaly correct, and I love the internal contradiction.
    PS : If you meet a real grammarian, believe him much more than me (I learnt a very tiny bit of Ancient Greek about 50 years ago, and I really lack practice ...)
  • She got back to Shakespeare. Now she is back to ancient Greek! Fantastic!

    I am very pleased to learn that ancient Greek used gender-neutral.
    Ta zooa trekei uses a singular form of the verb (trekei) to express the action of a plurality of actors (ta zooa).
    You add, dear Mr or Mrs BailleCl (I'd rather vote for Mrs), that the neutral gender has almost disappeared in our present languages.

    I wonder whether you don't mistake gender for number.
    Anyway the gender-neutral doesn't exist in most Indo-European and Afro-Asian languages, but it does in other ones like Germanic languages. I know a bit of Dutch and German that use the neutral gender for nouns, pronouns and consequently articles and sometimes adjectives.
    The French pronoun "on" is impersonal, it doesn't refer to a a precise person or precise persons. The problem of grammatical agreement seems to be a number agreement, not a gender one.

    That's what your tip made spring to my mind. But I am nothing of a grammarian and I'll be interested in reading more on the issue.

    Eventually we will speak Chinese which is a genderless language. It's coming up!
  • It's rather funny that you think I'm a Mrs when I'm a Mr. Funnier is that all this is around a problem of Gender. ... (Moreover, my Christian name, Claude, is, in French very imprecise : No Claudio or Claudia to help ...)

    In my memory, Ta Zooa, is neutral gender: A guy comforts me : ta zoa trekei= les animaux coure(nt) (zoos=animal cf zoologie) illustration du singulier du verbe pour le neutre pluriel du sujet. ...

    An other reminds me that 'Culture' is like 'Jam', the less you have, the more you need to spread it all over the slice of bread. I hope I did not spread it as much as to spoil your shirt ...

    PS : All this is nothing regards to the deep problem of the Sex of the Angels (The most important Problem of Gender that fascinated Christianity for centuries ...)
  • As long as I twig something, I stick on my point of view.
    Is it that in Greek only neutral gender plurals can drive a verb in the singular?
    I dunno. Maybe.

    But in English:
    "Everyone needs to be on their best behaviour."
    According to Hannah Benedikt 'their' is used as a gender-neutral alternative. I wouldn't infringe such an authority. But I cannot understand why gender is at stake here.

    "Everyone needs to love their wives."
    Are their wives getting neutral? Or at least do the wives become owned by neutral possessors?

    Everyone (sing.) needs (sing.) their (plural).
    Naive as I am I take it as a special feature of number-agreement.
    However I know I am wrong. Historians of grammar could explain why their is neutral in the case. Fortunately we have got some learned fellow like Claude to unveil the secrets of grammatical special features. Thank you, Claude.
    Sorry, Mr Claude, for having mistaken your male voice for a mermaid.
  • Hi Gee!
    Don't take 'neutral' for deprived of gender but for not engaged on either side.
    From this latter angle, 'their' is neutral because it remains 'their' whatever gender it refers to.

    Normally 'their' is an adjective meaning "of or relating to them or themselves esp. as possessors, agents or objects of an action" (Webster). So it refers to a plural.

    But it's a question of usage to use 'their' with an indefinite third person singular antecedent instead of his, her, its that wouldn't suit as they refer to a definite gender. Those pronouns (anyone, everyone, ...) are singular but they all reflect the probability of several subjects taken one by one. This makes up for the misdeed of number-agreement.
    I think it's nothing short of number-agreement exception but with the help of a gender-neutral plural.

    I hope everyone will come to an agreement as THEIR personal standpoint has been taken into account. It's normal that any GGuser comes and discusses THEIR opinion. It's fatal for anyone who drops by this thread to confront THEIR points of view.
  • That are justifications galore, pal. Even those who like me have shortcomings should be satisfied. Keep it up!

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